Mumbai Confidential Book 1: Good Cop, Bad Cop by Saurav Mohapatra and Vivek Shinde is a hard-boiled graphic novel set in Mumbai (available April 23, 2013).
Hard-boiled crime fiction the world over, whether it’s set in Los Angeles or Mumbai, Moscow or Tokyo, poses the same basic question to the reader: who can you trust in a world teeming with corruption and evil? How can you tell the good cops from the bad cops, the good guys from the bad guys?
This graphic novel, collecting the main story with three shorter interludes at the end, plumbs the moral depths of what it means to be a villain. The end result is a book that leaves you sadder at, and maybe a little bit wiser about, the human condition, and the lengths we’ll go to in order not only to survive but to find satisfaction with what we’ve done.
The main story follows former police inspector Arjun Kadam, who washed out of the force after the death of his beloved, pregnant wife, Vedika. As the story opens, he’s in a rain-soaked back alley, in a showdown with a corrupt officer with whom he has personal history. Things aren’t looking so good for Kadam who’s already bleeding profusely and has to suffer a further indignity, narrated with the bleak wit that permeates this book:
I don’t mind dying here, in an alley in the ass end of Mumbai. But monologuing? Can’t a man get shot in silence anymore? Senior Inspector Sunil Sawant … always did love the sound of his own voice. [My] .45 feels heavy, thanks to the two nine mil slugs Sawant put in me not ten minutes ago. Hurts like hell, but there’s only so much third-rate Bond baddie monologue I can take.
Five years earlier, Kadam and Sawant were colleagues on an elite force that took down key pieces of the Mumbai underworld. An unexpected gunfight led to the leader of their unit, Assistant Commissioner of Police Vishnu T Damle, retiring after suffering wounds that paralyzed him from the waist down, wounds incurred as he sought to protect Kadam. The death of Vedika soon after broke Kadam completely, sending him into a downward spiral of guilt and addiction, with Damle remaining one of his few friends once he got kicked off the force. For five years, Kadam wallowed in his pain, until a chance encounter on a bridge with a young rose-seller one night reminds him of his humanity:
It’s not the hard knocks of life that hurt the most. Life sucks. So you brace yourself for it. Once you’ve hit rock bottom, sermons and interventions from friends kind of lose their impact. It’s the random unexpected acts of kindness from complete strangers that finally get to you. The feeling lasts a moment. But in that brief moment, you’re totally vulnerable. You finally begin to see through the lies you’ve been telling yourself.
The moment of clarity is interrupted by a fast car driven recklessly, leaving Kadam and the flower-seller unconscious and bleeding by the side of the road. Kadam recovers but the rose-seller does not, and her death triggers Kadam’s quest for vengeance and redemption in the mean underbelly of one of the most populous cities in the world.
I love international fiction, especially when the storytelling evokes a culture both in its foreignness and familiarity, as Saurav Mohapatra and Vivek Shinde do so well here. The plot of the main story doesn’t deviate too much from hard-boiled detective fiction the world over, but is written with a mordant wit and illustrated with such clarity and attention to the small moments (in many places reminiscent of Alex Ross at his best) that it genuinely brings something new to the genre. I especially enjoyed how Mr Shinde would change the style of artwork between certain chapters, particularly when the narrative switches perspectives for the interlude titled “House Of Cards.” His mastery of different styles and his ability to know when to use each to best effect make a compelling argument for graphic novels being the medium most suited to conveying the atmosphere inherent in crime noir.
Make sure when reading this book to also enjoy the three short stories/interludes after the main story. Each is a perfect gem of storytelling, taking you by surprise with the message it conveys in the span of a few short pages.
Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.